How Prohibition Worked

The Effects of Prohibition

An illegal still, circa 1931
An illegal still, circa 1931
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As we mentioned, Prohibition created a vast illegal market for the production, trafficking and sale of alcohol. In turn, the economy took a major hit, thanks to lost tax revenue and legal jobs.

Prohibition nearly ruined the country's brewing industry. Anheuser-Busch survived Prohibition by turning to other products, such as ice cream, root beer, malt extract and corn syrup. The city of St. Louis boasted 22 breweries before Prohibition, and a mere nine reopened after it ended.

The advent of the Great Depression (1929-1939) caused a huge change in American opinion about Prohibition. Economic issues crippled the country, and it just didn't make sense to those suffering that the country couldn't profit from the legal taxation of alcohol. After all, the gangsters and bootleggers certainly seemed to benefit.

Prohibition also produced some interesting statistics concerning the health of Americans.

  • Deaths caused by cirrhosis of the liver in men dropped to 10.7 men per 100,000 from 29.5 men per 100,000 from 1911 to 1929 [source: Digital History].
  • On the other hand, adulterated or contaminated liquor contributed to more than 50,000 deaths and many cases of blindness and paralysis. It's pretty safe to say this wouldn't have happened in a country where liquor production was monitored and regulated [source: Digital History].
  • Alcohol consumption during Prohibition declined between 30 and 50 percent [source: Digital History].
  • Conversely, by the end of the 1920s there were more alcoholics and illegal drinking establishments than before Prohibition [source:].